Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's 'throwback' approach at the plate setting the tone for Cubs

It's becoming tougher and tougher to tell Anthony Rizzo and Joey Votto apart.

Joe Maddon has seen a bit of Votto in Rizzo for years and that has never been the case more than the first couple months of the 2017 season.

The Cincinnati Reds first baseman has led the league in walks four times and on-base percentage five times. Rizzo has yet to accomplish either feat in his seven-year career, but he's taken his offensive profile to Votto levels this season.

Votto is the only player in baseball with a better walk-to-strikeout ratio among qualified hitters.

Rizzo has 39 walks compared to only 31 strikeouts, on pace for 102 free passess and 81 whiffs, both of which would easily surpass his previous career bests (78 walks, 105 strikeouts).

Since May 19 — a span of 89 plate appearances — Rizzo has struck out just five times while drawing 14 walks and posting a .438 on-base percentage. 

That's a stark contrast to the changes baseball has seen over the last couple years where strikeouts are at an all-time high as everybody focuses on exit velocity and hitting the ball in the air. Gone are the days where almost every guy choked up on the bat and tried to shorten his swing with two strikes to just put the ball in play.

"He takes it seriously," Maddon said. "He definitely is a throwback when it comes to that method. I think it's beautiful. Him and Votto within our division probably do that as well as anybody I've seen over the last several years.

"Really adapting to the count and not trying to do too much in the count. Literally taking what the pitcher is giving you at that point."

That approach helped the Cubs Sunday as Rizzo keyed the charge to bust out of their losing streak and offensive slump with a first-inning double on the 10th pitch of an at-bat against Antonio Senzatela. 

Rizzo got down in the count (1-2) before choking up and shortening up, fouling off four of the next six pitches before he got one he liked, depositing it into the right-field corner and giving the Cubs a much-needed lead and breath of fresh air.

He nearly accomplished the same thing Saturday when he reached out and blooped a two-strike pitch into shallow left field, bumping Kris Bryant to third base with only one out, but the Cubs failed to cash in on that scoring opportunity.

Maddon would like to see more Cubs players follow in Rizzo's footsteps, especially given the Cubs' offensive struggles this season.

Rizzo has already seemingly had an impact on Bryant — the reigning National League MVP — who has cut down on his strikeouts for the second straight season and is now walking more than ever.

"There's nothing wrong with choking up," Maddon said. "There's nothing wrong with shortening up. There's nothing with making adaptations during an at-bat in order to move the baseball. That's all appropriate. It's good.

"I love the fact that either the best or the second-best hitter on the team does those things. Even to the point where I love when minor-league guys watch him within our organization and hopefully wanna emulate him.

"It's a mindset, man. It's something that you have to be willing to do — understand it, understand why you're doing it. It was really a big part of the fabric of the game for a while among many players in the lineup. Now, it's just a couple guys that are able to do it."

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.